Thousands of nurses and workers across 500 primary health care facilities downed their tools today to demand pay parity with their district health board counterparts.
Nurses working in general practices and emergency centres across the motu took to the streets to rally support for their plight. Some of them are those tasked with swabbing for Covid-19 tests.
In Hamilton, a group of workers waved banners declaring "quality work needs quality pay".
"We're a very talented group of nurses and we are not recognised by the skills we have," one nurse said.
Another said the nurses had "rolled-over" for too long because of their love and drive for the job and their patients.
"We're all equally qualified as the DHB," she said.
In Christchurch, practice nurse Sarah Watkeys said, through tears, that staff were working to the bone on the Covid-19 response frontlines.
"The lack of value that has been given to us brings me to tears. Why did we work through that if they are not going to show us we have value?"
Christchurch nurse Suli Tuitaupe - who works with a lot of Māori and Pasifika patients - said it was only fair that community practices should be paid equally.
"DHBs expect care to be in the community, to be placed in the homes and they need to reflect that in our payscales," he said.
In Dunedin, nurse Andrea Buxton said it was time primary health care workers were recognised.
"We talk to our colleagues in the DHB, they work hard as well, they earn at least 10 percent more than what we do, and we do the same work," she said.
Another Dunedin nurse Suzanne Crosado resented being treated differently from others in her field, especially when it came to the Covid-19 response work.
"We get a nice little letter with a pat on the back from the Minister of Health saying thanks for all your work. That was so demeaning," she said.
"After all the work we did, and we had to do it while doing everything else. How insulting."
She said the hospital seemed to think it could offload work onto primary care services, despite centres being stretched, workers burnt out, and being underfunded.
"Why shouldn't we be paid exactly the same as everybody else?" she asked.
In Wellington, lead Nurses Organisation advocate Chris Wilson told a crowd gathered outside Parliament that the situation was unacceptable.
"The frustration and anger and disrespect you must all be feeling for not being heard after one year of fruitless negotiations is just not acceptable," Wilson said.
"What do you have to do to be recognised? You're the front door of health."
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said primary care workers and admin staff were critical to the Covid-19 response and acknowledged it was understandable they were concerned about a pay gap opening up.
Bloomfield said he was working with the ministry and DHBs to find a solution.
The Nurses Organisation has urged those groups to meet with primary care employers before the next strike in two weeks' time.